ASEAN Foreign Ministers seek quick RCEP conclusion “given anxiety over trade wars”

ASEAN Foreign Ministers seek quick RCEP conclusion “given anxiety over trade wars”


Joshua Lay, Business and Policy Researcher

With trade tensions between the US and China rattling Southeast Asian markets, and the spectre of economic nationalism still looming in the global economy, ASEAN Foreign Ministers had much to discuss when they convened in Singapore last week for the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

Given the challenges currently facing multilateralism and the established rules-based order, it was perhaps no surprise that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – a massive trade deal between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea, China, India, New Zealand and Australia – occupied much of the discussion.

The ASEAN Post reports that the ministers pledged to try and conclude RCEP negotiations by the end of 2018, with Singaporean Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan stressing the need to complete RCEP negotiations quickly “given the state of the world and the anxiety over trade wars.”

In the Joint Communique released after the meeting, the Foreign Ministers also agreed to enhance economic cooperation and connectivity within the bloc.

The meetings came amid escalations in the US-China trade war, with Washington proposing higher tariffs than originally planned and China vowing to retaliate. The potential for economic blowback on Southeast Asia has undermined confidence in ASEAN economies, Reuters reports, while DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank, estimated that a 15 to 25 per cent tariff on all products traded between the US and China could halve Singapore’s GDP growth rate and cut Malaysia’s from 5 per cent to 3.7 per cent over 2019.

ASEAN ministers have voiced their dismay over the trade tensions, with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah saying the trade war was ‘a real threat’ and was making ‘many people in this region… quite nervous’, the New Straits Times reported.

Channel NewsAsia reported Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s comments that ASEAN was unanimously concerned “over looming trade wars because… in a war there’s no winners.”

Foreign ministers from the 10 ASEAN countries met in Singapore for the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 2 August, along with their counterparts from the European Union (EU), the US, China, Japan and South Korea, among others, the Straits Times reported.